TERRY SKILLEN’S HOME PAGE

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

You are welcome to my page on the Skillen.net website. Let me share a little about myself.  I am a fifth generation Canadian descendent of Francis Skillen and Mary Kerns. They arrived in Canada in 1834 from Ireland. The couple resided in Bytown, Upper Canada for about a year or so before settling on 100 acres of land in the Gatineau River Valley near Farrellton, Quebec.  Francis and Mary had two sons and eight daughters who survived to adulthood. You can access Francis Skillen’s family tree from the Skillen.net home page. I am a descendent of their son John who married Ann O’Rourke.  I have posted my family tree including the branches of my father and mother.

 

For a reason that is still unclear to me my great, great grandfather Francis sold his farm in Wakefield Township about the year 1870. His son James had left Canada for the USA sometime during the Civil War. I have checked the USA Civil War Veteran’s records and I have not found a reference to James which makes me question the belief by some that he served in the Union army. Perhaps a descendent of James will enlighten us . From what I can determine, for some years prior to his marriage to Anne O’Rourke, my great grandfather John worked for Anne’s father on the O’Rourke farm in Lowe township. The O'Rourke farm was about a mile from the Skillen farm.  Eventually, John married Ann and after the death of her father the couple took over the O’Rourke farm. John and Ann had five children, including my grandfather James Francis Xavier. John and Ann died within two months of each other in 1896. My grandfather Jim was 16 when his father died. He took over the farm. “Jim” Skillen built a clapboard house to replace the original O’Rourke two storey log house. Jim married Henrietta Lyons in 1905 and the couple had 11 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. My father, Alfred, the couple’s second child and first to survive into adulthood was born and raised on the family farm in Low Township. Francis sold the original Skillen land grant to his neighbour sometime around 1870. Alfred moved to Sudbury, Ontario in the mid 1930’s to find employment in the nickel mines. My parents met in Garson and married in 1939. I was born in Sudbury in 1940 and lived in Garson, a mining village, until 1949 when my father bought a small automotive repair business in Carleton Place, located in eastern Ontario. My sister Freda was born in 1941 and Linda was born in 1946. Linda passed away in 1978 just a few weeks before her 32nd birthday.

 

At the age of eighteen I left high school before graduating and I joined the Royal Canadian Navy. I served as a Victualling Storesman on two destroyers, HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Athabaskan during a five year period between 1958 and 1963. During action stations I was a loader of shells on one of the large guns on both ships. The closest I came to seeing action was when the Russians threatened to send missiles to Cuba in 1962. Our ship, a tribal class destroyer, was returning from NATO exercises in Europe when we received an order to take a position along the expected route of the Russian ships. We were told by our Captain that we were to intercept and stop the Russian ships. Should the Russian ships not stop we would open fire. We took our action stations. The Russian ships did not come. I recall that I was relieved to have avoided firing on the young Russian men who like myself were to be cannon fodder for the politicians. That event with its political overtones brought me to an appreciation for the need to do everything in order to negotiate settlements.

 

One other event during my naval service had a profound effect on my life. On our way from Portsmouth, England to the Azores where we were to refuel, our ship encountered a hurricane that tossed us around for two days. When we reached the Azores the aerials had been ripped off and the fo'c'sle had been damaged. Water poured into the forward lower mess where my bunk was located. When water was creeping up to the second bunk in which I slept we abandoned the mess and it was shored up. I remember thinking that the ship might sink. The waves were well above the top of the mast. The ship shook and shimmied as it slid down the wave to bottom out with a crashing thud. From deep down in the fold of water I looked up beyond the top of the mast as one side of the wave crash down on us and the other side drew us up to its peak, only to drop us violently down again into the abyss. The ship rolled deeply from side to side and bucked from fore to aft as the huge deep waves tossed it like a bit of flotsam. Inside the ship we hung on to whatever was handy while attempting to maintain our balance. That storm was my first exposure to the destructive power of nature.

 

A short while later we emerged from the storm. The sky was blue and clear, sun was shining and the temperature was soothingly warm. We had survived the storm and now we were safe alongside a jetty in the Azores Islands. I was grateful to have survived. Shortly after the ship was tied up alongside the jetty children began to appear. I stood on the deck a few feet from the children who, I thought,  had heard about the terrible storm and the battered ships. They knew nothing of our brief plight. They were only interested in the money they might beg from us. Some asked to shine our shoes for money. The children were dressed poorly and without shoes. I was affected by the appearance of these children and I felt deep compassion for them. I had what I would now describe as a spiritual experience, a sense of being called to help persons lest fortunate than my self. I felt compassion for these children and made a promise that someday I would help people such as these poor children. Perhaps my sudden experience of compassion resulted from a deep sense of gratitude about surviving the storm and a new found awareness about the meaning of life. My spiritual experience may also have been fed by the insight I had gained from the potential confrontation with the Russian ship. When I thought of killing the Russian sailors with the four inch shells that I would be loading into a large gun on our ship I felt anger with the politicians of the two super powers and totally helpless to do anything about it. The young men from Russia who were like me, adolescents, from small towns and farms, would lose their lives because politicians could not negotiate a solution to an ideological problem without resorting to aggression.

 

My view on ideological conflict may have been naive at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It came from my experience as a child. When I was nine my family moved from a small mining village in northern Ontario where most of the population consisted of Irish Canadian and French Canadian Catholics as well as Europeans from countries such as Italy, Finland and the Baltic states. I first became aware of an ideological difference at the age of six when my mother announced that I would not be going to the public school attended by my close friend who lived across the street. A new Catholic school had been built that very year and I would be attending it.  Hmm Catholics and non Catholics, suddenly I had to take religious differences into account. This did not sit well with me because I had another close friend across the street on which we lived who was a Protestant. I don't recall any religious tension or conflict in those early days of education. I don't ever recall hearing anything negative from either of my parents about members of other religious denominations. The only effect of this new revelation about religious differences was to give me data about differences. Nothing came of it that I can recall. When our family moved to Carleton Place we became members in a minority religious group in a community split by religious differences. I was suddenly attending a public school where I was not only the new boy in town, but a member of the hated Catholic minority. We were a small church congregation and all of my closest friends were Protestants. I don't recall being rejected by those whom I befriended but on the school yard I seemed to be a magnet for those who wanted to express their hatred or to take out their frustrations on the new boy in town. I recall hearing the parish priest saying from the pulpit that we (Catholics) know where we are going (Heaven) but we can't be sure where they (Protestants) will be going. I found this comment very confusing. How could the final reward of all my friends be in jeopardy because they belonged to a religion different from mine. At the time I did not have the knowledge necessary to challenge the idea. I had an intuition that what the priest said was to be challenged. I remember hearing only that one comment from the pulpit. I suspected that some of the same messages were being sent from the pulpits of the Protestant churches in town. I made a decision early in life that I would not support ideologies that treated other views with disdain and disrespect.

 Terry Skillen 1984

Following discharge from the navy I returned to high school in 1963. During that year I was focused on school and religion. When I graduated from grade twelve I felt an urge to enter the priesthood. I entered the novitiate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. As the time drew near to take first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience I realized that I could not proceed to the seminary. I left the novitiate in the summer of 1964 and proceeded on to St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa, Ontario from which I graduated with a B.A. degree (Psychology, Sociology) granted by Carleton University, Ottawa. I graduated with a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Toronto in 1972 and practiced social work in the fields of corrections, education and physical rehabilitation until my retirement in 2000. 

 

I met Eleanor Donnelly at St. Patrick’s College. Following graduation we married in 1969. Karen our first child was born in May 1970. Tamara followed in 1973. Eleanor and I separated in August, 1974. I married Catherine Carvell in 1980 and we have two children, Rebecca born in 1980 and John Adam born in 1983.  Catherine and I separated in 1988.  My parents survived until I was 59 years old. Dad had a severe stroke in 1986. He was hospitalized for 14 years until his death at age 92. Mom died at age 82, nine months after a diagnosis of leukemia. After their deaths in 2000 I became very interested in learning more about my family roots.

 

I started my search by speaking with the remaining members of my parentsí families. Only one of my motherís siblings was still alive. She was able to share information about my maternal grandparents and their living conditions during the early decades of the 20th century. Four of my father’s siblings were still alive in 2000. They were able to share information about the Skillen family. Several visits to the parish church attended by my Skillen predecessors provided a wealth of information about my great grandfather and several of his children. Contact with other local churches provided information about some of my older great aunts. Census data and church records have provided information about the couple who came with two children from Ireland. There is much left to be discovered about my great, great aunts and uncles Skillen who were born in Canada.  I continue my search. I am motivated to use this web site with the hope that information about my relatives will be brought to my attention.

 

I have posted a family tree that includes the branches of both my father and mother. Perhaps you will recognize in my family tree the name of an ancestor to who you are attached. I welcome inquiries that may advance our knowledge of our Skillen roots.

 

Here is a document on Francis and Mary Skillen in Canada